Gerry Leonidas

University of Reading, UK


Themes in the globalisation of typeface design

This presentation begins my mapping the thirtieth anniversary of Unicode (2018), the near-twentieth of OpenType, and near-thirtieth of affordable access to personal computing, onto the backdrop of changes in international trade flows for retail goods and services, and the shift of products towards service models. It demonstrates that these developments impacted significantly on the constitution and distribution of professional typeface design across both geography and social strata. It further claims that the time elapsed since these changes took hold, and the number of scripts about which we can make observations, allow us to extract themes in design and discourse.


From this starting position, the presentation argues two points. Firstly, that changes in formal attributes in individual scripts fall within categories of change across scripts, which enables the identification of general design themes. These changes occur along known and finite parameters that are familiar to designers, and are heavily influenced by the interplay of reference forms and typemaking environments. The fact (which the presentation will aim to prove) that these parameters are constant across scripts, marks the first indication that themes across scripts are feasible. Secondly, that discussions around style, terminology, authority, and modernity occur along similar lines across scripts, either in isolated or overlapping communities; the similarity of these discussions enables the identification of general discourse themes. The presentation will aim to demonstrate that these themes stem from the interactions of document types and typographic facilities, and are therefore outcomes of typographic rather that typeface design considerations. It will claim as a logical conclusion that discourse follows document genres, and is therefore exactly as script-agnostic as document genres are, and are further becoming. The presentation will also claim that the fact that this discourse is taking place within a typeface design community is not an indication that this group is the natural locus of this discourse. Instead, it is evidence that the more appropriate community of typographic professionals has become fragmented and absorbed into other professional disciplines, where discussion of typefaces is seen as irrelevant, peripheral, or is taking place at a superficial level.


Gerry Leonidas teaches and researches typography and typeface design at the University of Reading, UK. He supervises MA and PhD research, and lectures widely. He consults on publication and typeface design, reviews bodies of work, and runs knowledge transfer projects with a twin focus on global business development, and new education initiatives. He is the president of ATypI, a founding member of Granshan Foundation, and helps organise ICTVC and other conferences. He is the Director of the MATD, and the TDi summer course; both are global reference points for type education. In 2017, he launched the MResTD, a new research-focused programme in typeface design.

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